Israel's Peres and Qatar prince
Photo: AFP
Netanyahu and Mitchell
Photo: AFP

J'lem not counting on Gulf states' gestures

US relays message that Oman, Qatar willing to resume ties with Israel in exchange for settlement freeze, but Jerusalem source skeptical, says change not likely in near future

The winds of change blowing in from the Gulf are being received coldly in Jerusalem. According to a message recently relayed from Washington, Qatar and Oman may be willing to renew relations with Israel if the latter freezes construction in West Bank settlements.


But as there has been no progress in talks with the US regarding its demand to halt construction, Israeli officials say these are premature promises, and that no significant change in ties should be expected in the near future.


The Gulf states have recently been under American pressure to offer gestures of normalizations to Israel in exchange for a settlement freeze, and thus have signaled they are willing to resume official ties with Israel as part of a regional peace deal.


Until recently, Qatar did have an Israeli delegation office, but its diplomats were expelled following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, some seven months ago.


Ties with Oman, that once included an embassy, were cut following the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.


While the two nations seem to be willing to bend in Israel's favor, Saudi Arabia continues to oppose all proposals of normalization with Israel. A top official in Jerusalem told Ynet on Friday that the Saudi stance was only boosted following declarations and decisions made in last week's Fatah congress in Bethlehem.


Qatar and Oman's willingness to renew ties with Israel hang on Israel's agreement to freeze settlement construction – a decision that is yet to be made in Israel.


Moderate sources in Jerusalem have suggested a three to six-month freeze of construction, while Americans demand it be halted for a minimum period of one year.


This issue is slated to be covered in the upcoming meeting between US Mideast envoy George Mitchell and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in London later this month.


Meanwhile, the Palestinians have rejected the notion of returning to the negotiating table with the Netanyahu government. The Americans are attempting to resume talks and present a broad regional initiative following the United Nation's General Assembly session on September 22 in New York.


"Both Jerusalem and Washington intend to reach mutual understandings. This is in the Israeli interest," a senior source in the Prime Minister's Office said. "But at this point, the golden formula has yet to be discovered and at the moment, there are no negotiations with the Americans, let alone with the Palestinians."


As of Friday the prime minister will be on a partial vacation at his home in Caesarea, and part of his office's staff will also be on vacation, meaning no progress should be expected.


פרסום ראשון: 08.14.09, 10:12
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